What Do I Want for Christmas?

An Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa a Nigeria Church, the Nigerian branch of the Church of the Brethren, in Gilma, Nigeria, that was burned by Boko Haram (Photo: Copyright Church of the Brethren / Courtesy of Nigeria Crisis Response / Glenn Zimmerman)

When my daughter asks what I want for Christmas, I always cite one of my all-time favorite movie dialogues.

It comes from "Sneakers" (1992), a movie about computers, espionage and the U.S. government.

Played by James Earl Jones, National Security agent Bernard Abbott asks what a rag-tag team wants.

Whistler (David Russell Strathairn) answers, "I want peace on earth and goodwill toward man."

Abbott recoils, "Oh, this is ridiculous."

"He's serious," says Martin Bishop (Robert Redford).

Whistler repeats his request. "I want peace on earth and goodwill toward men."

Agent Abbott declares, "We are the United States government! We don't do that sort of thing."

Bishop says, "You're just gonna have to try."

Abbott acquiesces, "All right, I'll see what I can do."

Whistler says, "Thank you very much. That's all I ask."

That - peace on earth - is all I ask for Christmas. Is that too much?

"On earth, peace" was a ridiculous announcement at Jesus' birth. Since his birth, it's been an outlandish expectation, a preposterous promise.

Syria, South Sudan, northeast Nigeria and Myanmar (Burma) are only a few of the many places where people have an incredible hope for peace. No more bombs. No more government corruption. No more displaced persons. No more religious persecution. No more demonization.

I recently heard a ridiculous story in Manchester, Indiana, about peace on earth.

Manchester is a rural community with a four-block downtown. Christmas lights are abundant. Almost everyone is a Brethren, not to be mistaken for a Mennonite.

A Church of the Brethren missionary told me that the footprint of the terrorist group, Boko Haram, and the EYN (Ekklesiyar Yan'uwa a Nigeria, the Nigerian branch of the Church of the Brethren) were almost identical. Boko Haram mostly operates where EYN members mostly live.

Boko Haram has killed untold numbers of Muslims and Christians. It has burned churches or forced church members to desert 70 percent of the church buildings (1,668 churches). The extremist group has killed 11,000 EYN members.

Boko Haram has kidnapped countless Nigerians, including 276 girls at Chibok, 176 of whom belonged to the EYN churches.

Boko Haram has left hundreds of thousands of displaced persons, who face hunger and the lack of water and sanitation.

Here's the ridiculous news from EYN at Christmas: EYN is striving to honor and practice its heritage as a peacemaking church. Pastors are teaching nonviolence, calling for non-retaliation.

EYN's president Joel S. Billi called for reconciliation in a November sermon.

"'God reconciled us to himself'" through Christ Jesus, he said . "Don't point fingers at anybody. Let's forgive those who miscalculate their target. ... God has made us sons of peace."

We are a long way from Bethlehem with the same longing at Bethlehem: "On Earth, peace."

In "Sneakers," the national security agent committed himself to try to do what he could to deliver on peace.

Isn't that all we're really asking from our governments, our international nongovernmental agencies, our churches - to try?

EYN is trying. Are we trying enough?

We wish peace on earth for our readers this Christmas.

And we give thanks for what you do to try to make peace on earth.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook. Order his new book, "The Disturbances." It is available as either a paperback or an e-book.

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